Uproar in Bangladesh over Coca-Cola ad denying Israel links

Uproar in Bangladesh over Coca-Cola ad denying Israel links
A screengrab from Coca-Cola's commercial, which was released in Bangladesh on June 9, 2024. (Screengrab/YouTube)
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Updated 15 June 2024
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Uproar in Bangladesh over Coca-Cola ad denying Israel links

Uproar in Bangladesh over Coca-Cola ad denying Israel links
  • Coca-Cola has been enjoying close ties with Israel since 1960s
  • Commercial says the beverage is ‘not from that place’

DHAKA:  Coca-Cola is under fire in Bangladesh for a recent ad aiming to distance the brand from Israel in the wake of a significant boycott resulting from the war on Gaza.

The 60-second video, which first aired on Bangladeshi TV and YouTube on June 9, shows a shopkeeper interacting with a buyer who no longer drinks Coca-Cola as it comes from “that place.” The place is not named in the clip, but seconds later it becomes clear that the reference is to Israel.

The shopkeeper says that Coke “is not at all from that place” and that it “also has a factory in Palestine,” after which the reluctant buyer orders and enjoys the drink.

Social media accounts of Coca-Cola Bangladesh were soon later flooded with comments from Bangladeshis responding to the claims.

Coca-Cola Co. has been enjoying close links with Israel since the 1960s. In 1997, the company was honored by its government for “refusing to abide by the Arab League economic boycott of Israel.”

It owns dairy farms in illegal Israeli settlements in the Jordan Valley and a plant in the occupied Golan Heights.

In this context, the advert was for Bangladeshi viewers like Sohel Rahman, a businessman from Dhaka, an “attempt to fool the audience” by twisting the facts.

“Do they think the Bangladeshi people are stupid?” he said.

Sadia Ahmed, an executive from Dhaka’s Gulshan area, saw it as a “mockery” and misinformation.

“The campaign hid this information deliberately to play with the sentiments of the Bangladeshi people. The advertisers thought it would help boost its sales. But the result was the opposite,” she told Arab News. “Now, our boycotting campaign is even stronger, as Coke directly supports Israeli aggression on Palestine.”

While Coca-Cola removed the ad from its social media channels on Wednesday and no longer aired it on local TV, the video continued to make the rounds on social media, drawing comments like: “This feels desperate,” “This advertisement is trying to fool innocent people,” or “Boycott the actors too.”

Saraf Ahmed Zibon, the actor playing the main character in the ad, took to Facebook earlier this week to say he “had never been in favor of Israel” and had presented information and data that was provided to him by Coca-Cola.

The issue of Israel is very sensitive in Bangladesh, where many people say they can relate to the Palestinian struggle and resistance to Israeli occupation, and advocacy for Palestine is officially part of the country’s foreign policy.

Anything undermining the sentiment is unacceptable, especially when people “are dying every day in Gaza due to the Israeli aggression,” said Dr. Rasheda Rawnak Khan, associate professor at the Department of Anthropology of Dhaka University.

“It’s very much clear that this new Coke advertisement is political propaganda. This propaganda can’t be accepted in any case. It hurts the sentiment.”

Since the beginning of the newest Israeli onslaught on Gaza in October 2023, the Bangladeshi government and people have been repeatedly denouncing the deadly bombardment that has killed at least 37,000 Palestinians, destroyed most of the medical infrastructure in the besieged enclave, and displaced 80 percent of its population.

Part of the protest and mobilization in Bangladesh is a movement to boycott Western brands perceived as having links with Israel.

Coca-Cola’s attempt to win Bangladeshis back has resulted in the opposite.

“Coke failed to internalize the sentiment of 180 million people of Bangladesh … and made this socially and culturally (insensitive) advertisement to re-brand in the local market,” Prof. A.S.M. Amanullah, sociologist from Dhaka University, told Arab News.

“The attempt has backfired … I believe, in a couple of weeks, Coke’s sales could be reduced to 50 percent.”

Coca-Cola Bangladesh has not responded to repeated requests for comment about the commercial and its sales in the country.

A drop in demand has already been observed since October and has plunged further since the beginning of this week, with local soft drink brands coming to the fore.

“Last week, the demand was four times higher … A significant part of Coke’s annual sales used to happen during Eid Al-Adha. But this year, it seems that the total sales of Coke will fall drastically,” said Arifur Rahman, a grocery store owner at Dhanmondi, Dhaka.

“Usually, during summer, we used to sell a huge amount of Coke. But the demand started to decline from the beginning of the Gaza attack. The boycott campaign dealt a blow to Coke’s selling graph. Nowadays, people hardly ask for Coke. Instead, they are opting for different local colas.”


Bangladesh student group suspends protests for 48 hours over death toll

Bangladesh student group suspends protests for 48 hours over death toll
Updated 5 sec ago
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Bangladesh student group suspends protests for 48 hours over death toll

Bangladesh student group suspends protests for 48 hours over death toll
  • What began as demonstrations against politicized admission quotas for sought-after government jobs snowballed into some of the worst unrest of PM Sheikh Hasina’s tenure
  • A curfew has been imposed and soldiers are patrolling cities across the country, while a nationwide Internet blackout since Thursday has drastically restricted flow of information

DHAKA: The Bangladeshi student group leading demonstrations that have spiralled into deadly violence suspended protests Monday for 48 hours, with its leader saying they had not wanted reform “at the expense of so much blood.”
What began as demonstrations against politicized admission quotas for sought-after government jobs snowballed into some of the worst unrest of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s tenure.
A curfew has been imposed and soldiers are patrolling cities across the South Asian country, while a nationwide Internet blackout since Thursday has drastically restricted the flow of information to the outside world.
“We are suspending the shutdown protests for 48 hours,” Nahid Islam, the top leader of the main protest organizer Students Against Discrimination, told AFP from his hospital bed.
He was being treated for his injuries after being beaten by people he accused of being undercover police, he said.
“We demand that during this period the government withdraws the curfew, restores the Internet and stops targeting the student protesters.”
On Sunday, the Supreme Court pared back the number of reserved jobs for specific groups, including the descendants of “freedom fighters” from Bangladesh’s 1971 liberation war against Pakistan.
“We started this movement for reforming the quota,” Islam said.
“But we did not want quota reform at the expense of so much blood, so much killing, so much damage to life and property.”
At least 163 people have died in clashes, including several police officers, according to an AFP count of victims reported by police and hospitals.
Sporadic violence continued Monday, with four people brought to the Dhaka Medical College Hospital with bullet injuries, an AFP reporter at the scene saw.
Government officials have repeatedly blamed the protesters and opposition for the unrest.
Dhaka Metropolitan Police spokesman Faruk Hossain told AFP that “at least 532” people had been arrested in the capital since protests began, including some leaders of the opposition Bangladesh National Party.
Ali Riaz, a professor of politics and leading Bangladesh expert at Illinois State University, described the violence as “the worst massacre by any regime since independence.”
“The atrocities committed in the past days show that the regime is entirely dependent on brute force and has no regard for the lives of the people,” he told AFP.
“These indiscriminate killings cannot be washed by a court ruling or a government announcement.”
Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize laureate Muhammad Yunus urged “world leaders and the United Nations to do everything within their powers to end the violence.”
“There must be investigations into the killings that have taken place already,” the 83-year-old said in a statement, his first public comments since the unrest began.
The respected economist is credited with lifting millions out of poverty with his pioneering microfinance bank but earned the enmity of Hasina, who has accused him of “sucking blood” from the poor.
“Bangladesh has been engulfed in a crisis that only seems to get worse with each passing day,” Yunus said. “High school students have been among the victims.”
Diplomats in Dhaka questioned Bangladeshi authorities’ deadly response to the protests.
Foreign Minister Hasan Mahmud summoned ambassadors for a briefing on Sunday and showed them a 15-minute video that sources said focused on damage caused by protesters.
US ambassador Peter Haas told Mahmud he was presenting a one-sided version of events, according to a senior diplomatic official.
“I am surprised you did not show the footage of police firing at unarmed protesters,” the source quoted Haas as telling the minister.
A US embassy official speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed the ambassador’s comments.
The diplomatic source added that Mahmud did not respond to a question from a UN representative about the alleged use of UN-marked armored personnel carriers and helicopters to suppress the protests.
Bangladesh is a major contributor to UN peacekeeping operations around the world — earning significant revenues from its efforts — and has UN-marked equipment in its military inventories.
With around 18 million young people in Bangladesh out of work, according to government figures, the quota scheme’s reintroduction deeply upset graduates facing an acute jobs crisis.
The Supreme Court decision curtailed the number of reserved jobs from 56 percent of all positions to seven percent, most of which will still be set aside for the children and grandchildren of “freedom fighters” from the 1971 war.
While 93 percent of jobs will be awarded on merit, the decision fell short of protesters’ demands to scrap the “freedom fighter” category altogether.
Critics say the quota is used to stack public jobs with loyalists to Hasina’s ruling Awami League.
Opponents accuse her government of bending the judiciary to its will.
Hasina, 76, has ruled the country since 2009 and won her fourth consecutive election in January after a vote without genuine opposition.
Her government is also accused by rights groups of misusing state institutions to entrench its hold on power and stamp out dissent, including by the extrajudicial killing of opposition activists.


Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia

Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia
Updated 59 min 12 sec ago
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Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia

Five killed in nursing home shooting in Croatia
  • Unidentified gunman entered a nursing home in Daruvar — some 130 kilometers east of Zagreb — and began shooting
  • Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list described the alleged shooter as a ‘retired military police officer’

DARUVAR, Croatia: A gunman opened fire in a nursing home in Croatia on Monday, killing at least five people, according to officials and state media, in a rare instance of gun violence in the Balkan country.
State broadcaster HRT said an unidentified gunman entered a nursing home in Daruvar — some 130 kilometers east of Zagreb — and began shooting.
At least five were killed and several others wounded during the incident, HRT said.
Police said they were informed of the incident at 10:10 a.m. local time (0810 GMT), and confirmed the suspect had entered the nursing home and used a firearm.
“The person linked to the perpetration of the crime is under police custody,” police said in a statement.
The number of dead was later confirmed by Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic, who called for a thorough investigation by relevant officials.
“We are appalled by the murder of five people at the home for elderly in Daruvar,” Plenkovic said on social media.
The head of a regional emergency care facility, Nenad Mrzlecki, told local media that medical teams found four dead at the scene and four others wounded, who were immediately taken to local hospitals.
Mrzlecki did not provide information about the fifth victim.
“Our teams are still on the ground and the priority is to provide everyone with the necessary help, after that is done we will know the exact data on the number of victims,” he said.
Croatian newspaper Jutarnji list described the alleged shooter as a “retired military police officer” who killed his mother along with other residents and staff.
Daruvar, a town of some 7,000, has long been a popular spa destination thanks to the area’s thermal springs.
Shootings in the Balkan country are rare.
Last year in neighboring Serbia, the country was rocked by back-to-back mass shootings, including a massacre at a school in the capital in Belgrade in which 10 people were killed.


Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says

Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says
Updated 22 July 2024
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Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says

Ukraine’s top diplomat to visit China this week to talk peace, Kyiv says
  • Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will discuss bilateral ties at talks with Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during a trip from July 23 to 25
  • The trip is unusual as China is widely seen as close to the Kremlin

KYIV/BEIJING: Ukraine’s top diplomat will visit China on Tuesday at the invitation of Beijing for talks that Kyiv said would focus on how to end Russia’s war in Ukraine and on a possible Chinese role in reaching a settlement.
Nearly 29 months since Russia’s full-scale invasion, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba will discuss bilateral ties at talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi during a trip to China from July 23 to 25, the Ukrainian foreign ministry said.
“The main topic of discussion will be the search for ways to stop Russia’s aggression and China’s possible role in achieving a stable and just peace,” the Ukrainian ministry said in a statement on its website.
The Chinese statement said Kuleba’s visit would run from July 23 to 26 and provided less detail.
The trip is unusual as China is widely seen as close to the Kremlin, with which Beijing declared a “no limits” partnership in 2022 just days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Though the world’s second largest economy has not condemned the Russian invasion and helped keep Russia’s war economy afloat, Kyiv has been cautious in its criticism of Beijing.
China meanwhile says its ties with Russia are built on the basis of non-alliance and do not target any third party.
Various peace initiatives have emerged in recent months as the fighting has dragged on ahead of a US election in November that could see the return to power of ex-president Donald Trump who has threatened to cut vital aid flows to Ukraine.
Kyiv held an international summit without Russian representation in Switzerland in June to promote its vision of peace and now says it hopes to be ready to hold another one in November that would feature Russian representation.
China, which did not attend the Swiss summit, together with Brazil published a separate six-point peace plan on May 23, saying they supported an international peace conference being held that would be recognized by both sides in the war.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said that only the world’s powerful countries would be able to successfully bring an end to the war, singling out China as well as Kyiv’s close US ally as two possibilities.
The Ukrainian leader has said that China should play a serious role in helping to resolve the war.


India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns
Updated 22 July 2024
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India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

India court suspends order to restaurants to display owners’ names after anti-Muslim bias concerns

NEW DELHI: India’s top court ruled on Monday that restaurants cannot be forced to display the names of their owners, suspending police orders in two northern states that critics had said could foment discrimination against Muslims.
Police in the two states, both ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist party, gave oral orders in at least two districts requiring restaurants to put the names of their owners on display boards.
Police said this would help avoid disputes for thousands of Hindu pilgrims who travel on foot to sacred sites during a holy month, many of whom follow dietary restrictions, such as eating no meat during their journey.
But a Supreme Court bench ruled on Monday that while restaurants could be expected to state the type of food they serve, including whether it is vegetarian, they “must not be forced” to display the name and identities of owners.
The court suspended orders by police in Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand states and issued a notice to them seeking their response on petitions challenging the move.
More than a third of India’s 1.4 billion people are estimated to be vegetarian — the world’s largest percentage of people who don’t eat meat or eggs — as they follow diets promoted by groups within Hinduism and other religions.
Some vegetarians choose not to eat in restaurants that also serve meat and don’t rent out houses to meat-eating tenants.
A few allies of Modi and leaders of opposition parties had criticized the police orders, saying they feared they would deepen the communal divide and lead to Hindus avoiding restaurants employing Muslims.
Political foes accuse Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of targeting India’s roughly 200 million minority Muslims for electoral gains, which Modi and the BJP both deny.
“Such orders are social crimes, which want to spoil the peaceful atmosphere of harmony,” opposition Samajwadi Party Chief Akhilesh Yadav had said in a post on X, criticizing the police moves.


China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal
Updated 22 July 2024
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China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal

China and the Philippines announce deal aimed at stopping clashes at fiercely disputed shoal
  • Crucial deal reached after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila
  • Beijing has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea

MANILA: China and the Philippines reached a deal they hope will end confrontations at the most fiercely disputed shoal in the South China Sea, the Philippine government said Sunday.
The Philippines occupies Second Thomas Shoal but China also claims it, and increasingly hostile clashes at sea have sparked fears of larger conflicts that could involve the United States.
The crucial deal was reached Sunday, after a series of meetings between Philippine and Chinese diplomats in Manila and exchanges of diplomatic notes that aimed to establish a mutually acceptable arrangement at the shoal, which Filipinos call Ayungin and the Chinese call Ren’ai Jiao, without conceding either side’s territorial claims.
Two Philippine officials, who had knowledge of the negotiations, confirmed the deal to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity and the government later issued a brief statement announcing the deal without providing details.
“Both sides continue to recognize the need to deescalate the situation in the South China Sea and manage differences through dialogue and consultation and agree that the agreement will not prejudice each other’s positions in the South China Sea,” the Department of Foreign Affairs in Manila said.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced shortly after midnight Sunday that they discussed with the Philippines “managing the situation at Ren’ai Jiao and reached provisional arrangement with the Philippines on humanitarian resupply of living necessities.”
Neither side released the text of the agreement.
China has disputes with several governments over land and sea borders, many of them in the South China Sea. The rare deal with the Philippines could spark hope that similar arrangements could be forged by Beijing with other countries to avoid clashes while thorny territorial issues remain unresolved. It remains to be seen, however, if the deal could be implemented successfully and how long it will last.
Chinese coast guard and other forces have used powerful water cannons and dangerous blocking maneuvers to prevent food and other supplies from reaching Filipino navy personnel at Manila’s outpost at the shoal, on a long-grounded and rusting warship, the BRP Sierra Madre.
The yearslong territorial standoff has flared repeatedly since last year.
In the worst confrontation, Chinese forces on motorboats repeatedly rammed and then boarded two Philippine navy boats on June 17 to prevent Filipino personnel from transferring food and other supplies including firearms to the ship outpost in the shallows of the shoal, according to the Philippine government.
The Chinese seized the Philippine navy boats and damaged them with machetes and improvised spears. They also seized seven M4 rifles, which were packed in cases, and other supplies. The violent faceoff wounded several Filipino navy personnel, including one who lost his thumb, in a chaotic skirmish that was captured in video and photos that were later made public by Philippine officials.
China and the Philippines blamed each other for the confrontation and each asserted their own sovereign rights over the shoal.
The United States and its key Asian and Western allies, including Japan and Australia, condemned the Chinese acts at the shoal and called for the rule of law and freedom of navigation to be upheld in the South China Sea, a key global trade route with rich fishing areas and undersea gas deposits.
In addition to China and the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have been locked in separate but increasingly tense territorial disputes in the waterway, which is regarded as a potential flashpoint and a delicate fault line in the US-China regional rivalry. The US military has deployed Navy ships and fighter jets for decades in what it calls freedom of navigation and overflight patrols, which China has opposed and regards as a threat to regional stability.
Washington has no territorial claims in the disputed waters but has repeatedly warned that it is obligated to defend the Philippines, its oldest treaty ally in Asia, if Filipino forces, ships and aircraft come under an armed attack, including in the South China Sea.
One of the two Philippine officials said the June 17 confrontation prompted Beijing and Manila to hasten on-and-off talks on an arrangement that would prevent confrontations at Second Thomas Shoal.
During final meetings in the last four days, two Chinese demands that had been key sticking points were removed from the draft deal.
China had previously said it would allow food, water and other basic supplies to be transported by the Philippines to its forces at the shoal if Manila agreed not to bring construction materials to fortify the crumbling ship and to give China advance notice and the right to inspect the ships for those materials, the officials said.
The Philippines rejected those conditions, and the final deal did not include them, according to the Philippine officials.